By Brian Paglia
Somewhere in the maelstrom of blasted line drives into the gap, of fielding blunders, of seemingly interminable innings, Eagle's Landing lost of its way. It could not answer Spalding's offensive prowess. It could not match Spalding's stiff pitching. It could not duplicate Spalding's sound defense.
And so came the lesson for Eagle's Landing in its 14-2 defeat in five innings to Spalding in a Region 4-AAA game Tuesday. Before the Golden Eagles had even come to bat, they were down 3-0, and as its deficit mounted with each inning, Eagle's Landing's mettle dissolved.
"It's (was) a tough night," Eagle's Landing coach Toby Evans said. "That's just baseball for you. They got on top early and we just seemed to have trouble bouncing back."
Said shortstop Isaac Okwandu: "That wasn't the best effort that we've had. We got down on ourselves early. They scored early, and we couldn't find ourselves from that point on."
Coming off a 7-6 loss to Woodland last Friday, Spalding (7-3, 4-2) pushed three runs across in the top of the first inning. Eagle's Landing committed the first of four errors. Spalding's top of the order had three consecutive hits, and yet, it was just the first inning.
Eagle's Landing's bottom half of the first was an ominous harbinger for the game. Andy Polhemus grounded out to Jaguars starter Josh Goss on Goss' first pitch. Isaac Okwandu struck out on three pitches. Eric Rogers struck out on five, falling victim to a biting curveball.
Nine pitches and Eagle's Landing (6-6, 4-3) returned to the field.
"We weren't making adjustments," Okwandu said. "A couple spots he missed, but for the most part he was hitting his spots. We just didn't make adjustments early. That builds momentum for him, gives him more confidence and we were just stuck, just flat."
Indeed, Goss worked quickly again in the second, setting down the Eagle's Landing in order with just 10 pitches. Goss allowed two runs -- both unearned -- and just one hit in five innings, striking out seven.
And he never felt the pressure of a tight ball game. When he went to the mound in the second inning, Spalding led 6-0. When he returned in the third, the Jaguars had erupted for six runs to build a 12-0 lead.
"When they got on top, it gives you a lot more confidence on the mound," Evans said. "He just went out there getting ahead of hitters, and once you get ahead of hitters it's tough. He's a great pitcher. He did his job. He was working us all night long. His curveball was killing us."
The loss ended a two-game winning streak for Eagle's Landing, and further muddled the middle of the region standings. Six teams entered the day well-positioned to grab one of the four spots to qualify for the state playoffs. By the end of the night, Spalding jumped ahead of Eagle's Landing, ahead of the Golden Eagles by one game in the loss column.
But another match-up awaits on April 27, time enough, Eagle's Landing hopes, to cure the maladies that plagued it Tuesday night.
"For us there's really no where to go but up really," Okwandu said. "I don't think anybody on the team expected that to happen. I know I didn't. We've just got to stay focused, come out and practice hard the rest of the week. We've got a game on Friday. Try to get a win and gain some momentum and the next time we see (Spalding) try to return the favor."